Rational Discussion of Controversial Topics
Economics Education Ethics Foreign Policy Government History Politics Religion Science

Preventive Military Strikes

melian          6 July 2015 06:51 AM

Can preventive strikes be sometimes justified?

Do you find this topic interesting?
-2 -1 0 +1 +2


Answer category:  All answers Pro Con Other
Recommended for You Optimates Populares Centrists

Show comments            Sort by        

Silent Cal 10 July 2015 03:32 PM

Can they ever be justified? Of course.

If a nation is building up armies to launch an attack, and you know for sure that that's what they're doing, and their propensity to launch the attack is not affected by your propensity to preemptively strike them (an important point), and a preemptive strike will result in many fewer casualties than letting the attack happen, it's pretty justified.

In real life it's the certainty about a nation's intentions that's the bottleneck.

In an existential struggle the standards are likely lower, as the long-term costs of strategic disadvantage are much greater.


melian 11 July 2015 06:37 AM

In real life it's the certainty about a nation's intentions that's the bottleneck.

Are you sure about that? The two cases where I think the preemptive strikes might have been most effective (Russia in 1918 and Germany in 1934) are also the cases where the governments were quite outspoken about their aggressive intentions.


Silent Cal 21 July 2015 04:09 PM

That's what I mean. Usually being sure about the intentions is the hard part, and the cases where being sure about the intentions is easy are generally the cases where a preemptive strike is justified.

View Replies (1)

Alice 17 July 2015 05:22 PM

The easiest thing to do would be to say it's never justified, but I don't believe this is the case. It's like attacking people physically is almost never justified, but if you are surrounded and outnumbered by armed people with hostile intentions, striking first may be your only hope of survival - you are justified in doing it.

Same goes for states: sometimes a state's survival may depend on a preventive military strike, and in this case the state has to do it. Unfortunately, this is a very fine line, and making the right judgement can be difficult. So this can serve as both a pretext for an unjustified attack, and as a way to condemn and punish a completely justified one. I wish one could lay simple rules as to when it is justified.


Fwiffo 7 July 2015 01:17 AM

Offence is the best defence. However being offensive for the sake of it is generally bad. Any kind of assault can be framed in securing a countrys interest aka be a form of defence. a "preventive" action implies that the target is not currently a threat but could/will become one soon. If it is not a threat there is no need to defend against it. If it is already a threat then the damage has already been done and being threatened can't be avoided. The concept reeks of being (potentially on purpose) ambigious what constitutes an actionable threat. It might be easier to sell an image that we will only shoot if they shoot first on theorethical grounds while in practise someone building a military base that hasn't fired yet can itch ones trigger finger.

*** Star Control 2 spoilers ***
On the theorethical level there isn't really a stopping point on what level of threat can be deemed actionable. The Ur-quan in Star Control 2 have an internal conflict about security of a less permissive and more permissive lines. The Path of Now and Forever dictates that any free species is a potential threat to Ur-quan and must be either enslaved or made subservient to Ur-quan. The Eternal Doctrine says that any other species being alive constitutes a threat to the Ur-quan so all other species must be made extinct so that all life can reincarnate as Ur-quan and understand the traversty possible by uncontrolled species. Both of these end in highly expansionist and militant assault behaviour but they are framed in terms of defence. This is semi-justified by a possibly fate-worse-than-extinction event that the Ur-quan species went throught when it was forcibly dominated by Dnyarri. Both of the doctrines seem absurdly war-permitting but I have found it troublesome to find the error in the reasoning. Currently I think that surprisingly that the existence of other species does pose a small existential risk but that it is so small that it ought to be accepted rather than mitigated. Then the question becomes how big of a an existential risk needs to be to warrant action. It certainly seems that if they are shooting at you it is warranted to shoot back (however some human tribes that were peaceful on philosphical grounds did choose to not violently resist on a a conquerer trying to take their lands by violence and I can't say they did a wrong choice but obviously the choice didn't leave them alive).

In practical terms I think countries ought to tolerate each other to have militaries of strength that would result in a real war. That is just having an armed force doesn't make you a fair target for wars. However I am torn on whether the possible usage of a normal sized army gives reason to act first. Of recent attention is also smaller than regular armies that have a high chance of being active. Mostly they fail to pose a genuine existential threat. Yet if they start shooting you are likely to go hunt their bases down. Mostly in these I would say you have an urgent need to resolve their motive for fighting for example via diplomacy rather than shoot first. People don't go to war just to get themselfs killed. Usually there are some reasons one can atleast appriciate in the abstract. It might be tempting to ignore these and let the guns do the talking. The problematic situation is when you think their complaints are invalid. Often they can feel like you started first by doing something you felt you were within your rights to do but they thought it was an act of aggression. Now if the war was about defending your right to do the controversial thing that would be a different matter. Usually however it is just framed that they "hate us" without spesifying "what for" they hate us. That is since it is not up for discussion what things we are going to do how much people can hate us before we start to shoot them? If they did a controversial thing we could point out that that is an issue worthy to go war over. "general resistance" is not spesific enough to war over.